Deng Xiaoping

The Primary Task of Veteran Cadres Is To Select Young and Middle-Aged Cadres For Promotion


Published: July 2, 1981
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine


My original intention in coming today was only to listen to what our comrades had to say. But the question of selecting and training young and middle-aged cadres is extremely important, so I have decided to say a few words about it myself. We constantly stress that it is a question of strategic importance on which the very destiny of our Party depends. It has now become extremely urgent to resolve this issue. If we don’t resolve it within three to five years, we shall be faced with catastrophe. Foreigners have described our recent Sixth Plenary Session of the Central Committee as having arranged for the transfer of leadership and settled the question of top personnel without friction, and they have praised us for having dealt with these matters in an orderly way. Nevertheless, if we don’t solve the problem of succession on a nationwide scale within three to five years, chaos may ensue. Some veteran cadres are no longer with us and others are no longer able to work, while new cadres cannot be promoted, or if they are, there is always some kind of objection. Many veteran cadres think the only good cadres are those who support them, and this seems to be a widespread phenomenon in the Party. To put it bluntly, the question of whether people are appointed on their merits or by favouritism has not been settled satisfactorily. I don’t mean that this applies to all veteran comrades, but it does apply to a considerable number. I suggest we learn from Comrade Liu Lanbo, who was mentioned at this meeting today. He personally recommended a younger comrade to succeed him as Minister of Electric Power. Why have you all been asked to stay on at the end of the Sixth Plenary Session for this two-day meeting to discuss Comrade Chen Yun’s proposals for promoting and training young and middle-aged cadres and for retiring old ones? It’s because this question is very urgent, very important. Comrades from the army may recall that I brought up the question of lowering the average age of army cadres at a conference on political work convened in 1964. That was 17 or 18 years ago. Although the question was not yet very urgent then, it had already surfaced. I also said at that conference that wisdom increases with age. But that was in the early sixties, and the situation today is completely different. In short, we have become more and more aware of the urgency of the matter. Therefore, the Central Committee has recently been considering the establishment of two central commissions under the new [Twelfth] Central Committee, an advisory commission and a commission for discipline inspection, to absorb a number of veteran comrades. The members of the Central Committee would be somewhat younger, which would be good for the future. We veteran comrades should have an enlightened attitude and take the lead in solving this major problem of reducing the cadres’ average age. Otherwise, it will be impossible to solve. If the veteran comrades don’t take the lead, the others will hesitate to select younger cadres. And even if you issue orders that younger cadres are to be selected, there is no certainty that the right persons will be chosen, for some comrades will still be considering which persons support them personally. We must be cautious, because the hard-core elements of the Gang of Four and those who engaged in beating, smashing and looting during the “cultural revolution” are clever and opportunistic, and they know how to brag about themselves and flatter other people. Our veteran comrades are liable to be taken in by them. Therefore, the crux of the matter is that veterans should take the lead, really be selfless and keep the overall situation in mind.

After the Central Working Conference last December, Comrade Chen Yun put this question more sharply than before. He stated it well, and I agree with him. We had been rather timid at first, but on that occasion he suggested that it was not scores or hundreds of young and middle-aged cadres who should be selected for promotion but thousands and tens of thousands. And what he really meant was “tens of thousands” — the “thousands” was just thrown in for rhetorical effect. Some of those we select now will be removed from office when it becomes clear that they are not the right choices. For the present we may begin by selecting, say, 50,000. They should be recruited into the leading bodies after three to five, or perhaps seven to eight, years of work. That is, they will be prepared as successors to comrades now working at the provincial, municipal and ministerial levels (or at corresponding levels in large factories, mines and other enterprises), and the outstanding ones should be brought into the central organizations. Those who are now around 40 will then be 47 or 48 — not so young any more. If they are now around 50, they will be pushing 60. I am afraid that only a few comrades present here today are still young; generally speaking, all of us must be at least 60, and the great majority over 60. What about seven to eight years from now, when we are all close to 70 or even older? You can see that this is a matter we have to take very seriously.

Are the persons we need available? In my opinion, we should be able to find one or two hundred thousand. The question is whether we can make up our minds to look for them, whether we are ready to make a proper search by conducting the necessary investigations. What are the criteria? We need chiefly persons who graduated from college or university in the sixties. There should be 600,000 from the pre-“cultural revolution” years 1961-66, assuming there were 100,000 graduates a year. And if we include graduates from the vocational secondary schools, the total is nearly two million. These people are relatively well trained professionally. There are ample data to show that the great majority of the college and university graduates of those years have done pretty well. These people are now around 40. The deputy director I met in the No. 2 Motor Works graduated from college immediately before the “cultural revolution”, and he is now 39. Although some of these people behaved badly during the “cultural revolution”, most were “bystanders”. Take, for example, the comrade I have just mentioned. He disapproved of the “cultural revolution” and was attacked in its early days. Having been attacked during the “cultural revolution” is a measure of political merit. Are people like him qualified? He is now already a deputy director of a big motor works. Why could he not be given further training and sent to a Party school or assigned to some other post where he could be further tempered? People of his type are easy to find if only we keep our eyes open. In general, though, they are thought to be too inexperienced or, as people sometimes say, too “conceited”. I have my doubts about their being “conceited”. An enthusiastic and capable person is always self-confident and has ideas of his own. The more ideas you have, the more self-confident you are. There’s nothing bad about that. If the person really is a bit conceited, he will learn modesty when assigned to an appropriate post, for otherwise he will find it hard to work there. When I say we can find capable people, I mean there may be 150,000, not just 50,000. Among those with professional knowledge — apart from graduates of universities, colleges and vocational secondary schools — we have the numerous people who have educated themselves through independent study. The right people are on hand; the question is whether we select them or not. When Comrade Chen Yun spoke, one of the things he suggested was that the Organization Department under the Central Committee should establish an office to take charge of affairs relating to young and middle-aged cadres. That is an important proposal.

What is essential is that once we have decided on the task of selecting young and middle-aged cadres for promotion, we should set about doing so. The work requires a defined objective. I would like to ask you to discuss whether we should draw up a five-year plan for it. The best thing would be a four-year plan ending in 1985 [to coincide with the end for the Sixth Five-Year Plan]. But I propose that we draw up two plans on this cadre question — a five-year and a 10-year plan. In the first five years we should select, say, 50,000 people and assign them to appropriate posts where they can be tempered. We should decide what percentage of leaders at the ministerial, departmental and bureau levels and at the provincial, municipal and autonomous-region levels should be around 50 and what percentage should be around 40, and then try to reach those percentages gradually within the next five years. For the second five years, we should set age limits for leaders at certain levels (for example, the provincial, municipal and autonomous-region and ministerial levels), which will apply with only certain special exceptions. Please discuss whether these proposals are feasible. I have been talking about details. The army has drafted some guidelines that it is now trying to apply. It has suggested age limits for regimental, divisional and army-level cadres of around 30, 40 and 50, respectively. Some units have complied with these regulations quite well; others have not. In the future, systems relating to civilian cadres — the retirement system, for instance — should also have specific age regulations. Other countries have retirement systems. For example, army officers in most countries retire at the age of 60, though they can take up civilian jobs afterwards. As for civilian officials, Japanese diplomats, for example, are expected to retire at 65, while some countries set even lower retirement ages. It seems to me that we too should have some age limits. Perhaps we cannot put such limits into effect in the first five years. But couldn’t we set it as an objective for the second five-year plan? In addition to limits on cadres’ ages, there should be limits on their number in a given unit. For example, aren’t one minister and two to four vice-ministers enough for a ministry? Why do we need more than a dozen vice-ministers for each ministry when it is the departments directly subordinate to it that are in charge of professional work? Here I am talking about the need for a major reform. It is partly because of this overstaffing at the top that we have the problem of bureaucracy and so many things just don’t get done. It is enough for a ministry to have four vice-ministers at the most and for a department or bureau to have still fewer deputy heads. Why should a department or bureau have so many deputy leaders? Two at most are enough. Our grave propensity to bureaucracy is inseparable from the current overstaffing of our organizations. Of course, in the first five years there will be the question of replacing the old cadres by the young, and there will be a five- to ten-year period of transition. The central issue is whether in the first five years we can select about 50,000 cadres some of whom are just under 50, some around 40 and some even younger. And there should be a proper ratio of cadres in these different age groups. Then we can take up the question of how to rationalize our cadre system and administrative structure, a question which should be solved in a comprehensive way during the second five years. The first five years are the most important. During that period, comrades present here will have to take the responsibility. But by the second five years how many of us will still be around? How many will still be able to work as usual? It’s hard to say. Five years from now, those who are now 65 will be 70. Time flies. Therefore, I raise both hands in support of Comrade Chen Yun’s proposal. It remains to discuss the concrete measures to turn his proposal into reality. We have to be sensible in this matter. I have had a heart-to-heart talk with Comrade Chen Yun. Frankly, so far as the two of us are concerned, we would really be very happy to retire now. But of course we can’t do that yet. What is our most important job, then? Naturally we have to concern ourselves with state policies and the Party’s principles, but what is of the utmost importance is to settle the question of selecting young and middle-aged cadres for promotion. This is the principal task for the two of us. I hope that all comrades here who are more than 60 will also make settling this question their primary task. It’s too important for us to neglect. That is all I want to say today.

(Speech at a forum of secretaries of Party committees of provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.)